Mark Aguirre and Adrian Dantley have long been variations on the same theme, men of immense talent, immense ego and, it's said, the immense capacity, to shear years off a coach's life. On Feb. 15 they exchanged uniforms in the biggest deal of the season, involving as it did two high-impact players, two high-profile teams, one angry mother and one old, old friendship.
Aguirre, 29, switched from the Dallas Mavericks to the Detroit Pistons, leaving behind a sad owner, who considered himself Aguirre's surrogate father, but a happy bunch of former teammates, who all but broke out the hats and horns to celebrate his departure. Had Aguirre's flight out of Dallas—it departed two hours after he received the news—been canceled, one has the feeling that the Mavs would have chipped in for a charter. In Detroit, Aguirre joined his boyhood buddy from Chicago, Isiah Thomas, whom many observers credited, or discredited, with engineering the deal.
Dantley, meanwhile, moved more deliberately, as is his style on the court and off, to his sixth NBA home. (Before the Pistons, he had played for the Buffalo Braves, the Indiana Pacers, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz.) Dantley learned about the trade while Detroit was on a road trip in Los Angeles and flew not to Dallas to join his new teammates but to his off-season home in Silver Spring, Md. He stayed there for the next week, trying to persuade Dallas owner Donald Carter to add another season to the two years that remain, after this one, on his $1.2 million-a-year contract, and also to get over the devastation of being traded for Aguirre, whom, according to sources on both clubs, Dantley doesn't respect.
The Mavs hung tough, and eventually AD and his agent, David Falk, came to their senses. Dantley flew to Dallas last Thursday night, poorer by $45,731.70, the sum he forfeited for missing three games, and without that contract extension. "I'm a Dallas Maverick now," he said, pumping Carter's hand at the airport when he arrived. If there's one thing Dantley understands, besides how to get to the foul line—he has averaged 8.9 free throws a game during his NBA career—it's the cold, hard fact that business is business.
Neither Dantley nor Aguirre got off to a particularly good start with his new team. Aguirre, who went to Detroit weighing 245 pounds, was literally gasping for breath last week in a game against Portland. "[Coach] Chuck Daly wants training-camp condition from me," said Aguirre, "and I'm a long way from that." About 10 pounds from that.
Dantley drew a mixed reaction—about 70% cheers, 30% boos—when introduced before his first game at Reunion Arena, last Friday night, and then missed all seven of his shots from the floor in an ugly 127-92 loss to the Golden State Warriors. He bounced back the next night, scoring a game-high 32 points in a 127-93 defeat of the Washington Bullets. (The same night, Aguirre had his best outing in four games as a Piston, coming off the bench to score 31 as Detroit beat the New Jersey Nets 113-95.) The Mavericks, who were 28-24 at week's end, have been a disappointment this season and will need a couple of weeks to integrate into their scheme not only Dantley but also center-forward Herb Williams, who was obtained last week from Indiana in exchange for Detlef Schrempf and a second-round draft pick in 1990 or '91.
"I felt funny, kind of confused and disoriented out there," said Dantley after his Dallas debut. That's how he felt about the trade, too. Some of the Pistons felt the same way, but Dantley wasn't the subject of the angry good riddances that marked Aguirre's departure from the Mavericks. Even Thomas, who was obviously happy to have Aguirre aboard, could not publicly rejoice, considering the widespread belief that it was he who had pushed the buttons. Thomas's backcourt mate, Joe Dumars, was deeply saddened that Dantley, who had been his best friend among his teammates, was gone, but he held his tongue about the deal. In a gesture of respect, Dumars requested a DANTLEY 45 jersey as a keepsake.
Other Pistons were hopeful that Aguirre's offense, more multifaceted than Dantley's post-up game, would pay dividends, but they were also frankly apprehensive about the loss of Dantley, whom they called Teacher in recognition of his sagacious ways.
And no one felt more ambivalent about the trade than Detroit general manager Jack McCloskey, who closed the deal for the Pistons.
"I like and admire Adrian so much," said McCloskey. "The way he went about his job, kept himself in shape. He's a real pro. Adrian keeps people at arm's length, but I always felt we had a mutual respect." McCloskey shook his head. "I guess that might be lost now."